Wednesday, January 21, 2015

These Are A Few of Our Favorite Strings! Part II, Violas

Following up our previous entry talking about violin strings, here is Our Favorite Strings Episode II The Viola.

MacDonald Stradivari viola, 1719

Viola tone quality is a bit of a difficult subject because there exists such a tremendously wide range of tastes. For one, full size violas vary in body length from 15 inches to more than 17 inches - and there are players that play everything in between! This means that there are many variables to take into account when choosing strings. Smaller instruments tend to sound nasal with not much power on the C string, while larger instruments are slower to respond. It is important to choose strings with the size of your instrument in mind because it will have a great impact on the success of your strings.

Close up of a synthetic core string

Now with all of that in mind, here's a tutorial on string lingo. We'll use some comparisons to help explain the jargon:

Mellow - A mellow sounding instrument will sound very focused under your ear without harsh overtones, like a French horn or a cello. People often perceive a mellow sounding instrument as being tuned lower, even though it's tuned to the same pitch as a brighter instrument.

Bright- The extreme of bright would be tinny. Piccolos are very bright instruments. Many bright instruments sound very loud when you're playing them, with a lot of sound blasting into your ear. Players will perceive this as an instrument with great projection, but that is not necessarily true. Bright sounds are made up of many higher overtones that die off quickly and do not carry very far.

Muddy- Not clear. Like a guitar with the fuzz pedal on all the time.

Clear- Sounding like a bell.

Project- The sound carries away from the instrument. An instrument with great projection can be heard at the back of a concert hall.

Balance- All of the strings work together. One string isn't louder than another, and you don't need to change your bowing technique for each string. Balance can also mean not too mellow and not too bright.

Andrea Amati Viola, ca. 1560

And now, the strings:

Evah Pirazzi Made in Germany by Pirastro

The A and D string will truly bring out the brightness of your instrument. The lower strings (G & C) can sound a bit weak. We do not recommended these synthetic core strings for violas under 16". 
Obligato Made in Germany by Pirastro
These synthetic core strings are rich and mellow, and respond with great nuance like gut strings. They sound great on all strings, but are especially nice for adding warmth and fullness to an overly bright viola. 
Helicore Made in the USA by D'Addario
These steel core strings are warm, crisp and clear with a fast response. They also feel surprisingly soft and comfortable under your fingers. Available in short, medium and long scale to fit 14-15", 15-16", and 16-17" violas.
Need more information on the different types of string cores and wrappings? Gut, nylon, perlon, steel, titanium, all wrapped up in one blog.

Stay tuned for Part III - Cello Strings. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

These Are A Few of Our Favorite Strings! Part I, Violins

By Andy Fein and the staff at Fein Violins

Kaplan Violin Strings, Vivo on the left, Amo on the right

Strings can make or break the sound of an instrument. They can help a violin produce a sound that soars over a 120 piece orchestra, or they can make a Stradivarius sound like wet cardboard. And just because your favorite soloist uses "X" strings, doesn't mean that they will work as well with your violin. Violins are like snowflakes - no two are exactly the same (and both have dust in the middle), and as such, a particular set of strings that allows one violin to reach its full potential can inhibit another.

Finding the right strings for your instrument can seem like an uphill battle, but you don't have to do it alone. What follows are descriptions and reviews of popular string brands by and for violinists.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bruch's Violin Concerto. How to NOT Make Money on a Mega Hit

By Andy Fein and Joe Peterson

The Bruch Violin Concerto in g minor is one of the finest concertos in the violin repertoire - it's been performed by nearly every major soloist since its premiere...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Voller Brothers Violins. Copies, Fakes, or Frauds?

By Andy Fein & Joe Peterson

Working in a violin shop, we get a lot of phone calls about violins labeled "Antonius Stradivarius".  (How many? Two or three each day!) Excited voices on the other end of the line will haltingly read the label out loud and tell us they just found it an attic, basement, closet, old barn, or under the bed. A lot of these are not-so-well-done factory instruments coming from Saxony and Eastern Europe. An expert can look at these violins and tell what it is before blinking. But some copies are so good they can fool most, if not all, of the "experts"!

Voller Brothers copy of the 1691 'Red Cross Knight' Stradivarius

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Hot Enough For Ya? The Life of Stephane Grappelli and "Hot Jazz"

by Joe Peterson, violinist

There is a common misconception that violinists have to start playing at age 6 or younger to get anywhere. Nope. Not true. We have a guy who bought a cello from us, and he started playing at age 70. But unfortunately, people like him aren't the ones all over YouTube. Many aspiring young violinists get discouraged after seeing wunderkind perform; maybe they have tiger parents, maybe they are geniuses (genii?), or maybe they have just a few more years under their collective diaper. Regardless, hope should never be lost! Stephane Grappelli, one of the greatest jazz violinists of all time, was not about that young life. He first picked up a violin at age 12, and his earliest teachers were the mean streets of Paris! By this I mean he was largely self-taught; he'd go and listen to various buskers and copy what he liked.